Darfur: What more can Minnesotans do?

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‘Genocides happen because we let them happen’

Last week’s “Darfur: the war that won’t go away” forces us to ask what we and our political leaders here in Minnesota can do to help end this “particularly vicious genocide” half a world away.

Darfur is becoming increasingly dangerous. In recent weeks, 10 African Union (AU) peacekeepers were killed and their weapons and equipment stolen from one of their camps. The AU’s 5,400 peacekeepers in Darfur lack a mandate to stop the Janjaweeds and other militias.

Approved on July 31, 2007, the United Nations peacekeeping mission is supposed to be in Sudan by January 1. However, the Khartoum government continues to frustrate the international effort, which now seems unlikely to occur. Khartoum is trying to change the demographic of the region by allowing the Janjaweed and Murle militias’ continuous rape of teenage girls and marriages with more than five concubines.

Against their will, young boys are abducted to the north where they are brainwashed in military training camps. Forcefully enlisted in the army, these youths work as mine-sweepers at the front lines.

“Sudan’s war is still going on, and nobody knows when it is going to end,” said Arku Tokpah a Liberian student in Brooklyn Center. “Unless God brings it to an end.”

From October 11 to 17, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in collaboration with the Genocide Network, presented a week of events to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur. The event included an interactive Camp Darfur and a new documentary, The Devil Came on Horseback, which depicts the war through the eyes of U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle, who monitored a 2004 Sudan cease-fire for the African Union.

The international community has accused China, the Khartoum government’s main trade partner, for indirectly supporting the bloodbath in Darfur and other parts of Sudan. China reportedly plays a huge role in Darfur by supplying Khartoum with arms used in the carnage against the people, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

For the past several years, Sudan President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir’s government has redirected funds from the oil trade with China to purchase more arms rather then building schools in places like Liliir, where U of M graduate student Gabriel Kou Solomon’s nieces Yar and Ajak were recently abducted.
“The oil revenue is not coming for the benefit of the people of Sudan, but to kill our people in Darfur,” Jem field commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr told the BBC’s Network Africa program. “All the people of Darfur believe that China is a partner for this genocidal government in Khartoum.”
Congress Member Betty McCollum has supported three recent Darfur bills and asked for tougher measures against Khartoum. In a letter to Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, dated April 27, 2007, Rep. McCollum highlighted China’s role in supporting the Darfur genocide and in its impact on the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Not all is lost

There is still hope to help Darfuris if people are educated about the ongoing genocide and intensify their advocacy activities on behalf of the region and its people.
“People need to know that genocide is happening,” said Dr. Ellen J. Kennedy, outreach coordinator of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. “The average Minnesotan knows very little or nothing about this crisis, unfortunately, and education is the first step.

“This is a particularly vicious genocide in its targeting of women and girls with gender-based violence,” said Kennedy, who also serves as coordinator at the Genocide Intervention Network in Minnesota. She encourages Minnesotans and anyone else interested in helping Darfuris to follow the news and attend public events about Darfur.

“Genocides happen because we let them happen. Unless ordinary Americans tell their legislators that we want these atrocities to stop, our legislators don’t know that we care,” said Kennedy. “The way to contact our legislators is to call 1-800-GENOCIDE. This toll-free call can be made anywhere in the U.S. and is the single most effective way to reach our elected officials in Washington.”

The Genocide Intervention Network raises funds to support a limited peacekeeping force in Darfur and to provide security for women and girls at risk. It has raised more than $500,000 through donations for direct programs in Darfur. Kennedy believes that Minnesotans could do more by donating to stop what she called this “scourge of the 21st century.”

Over the past years, Minnesota’s 10 elected officials in Washington (eight representatives and two senators) have voted on Darfur or on genocide-related legislation. Some, like Sen. Coleman and Rep. Ellison, have been consistent supporters, while others, like Rep. Kline, have earned a “D” according to DarfurScores.org, which monitors House and Senate representatives on the issue.

On May 23, Minnesota became the 13th of 20 states in the U.S. to pass divestment legislation. The bill effectively removed any investments in the state’s $31 billion pension fund from a targeted list of about 24 companies that are complicit in supporting the Darfur genocide. This support comes principally through petroleum companies in China, India, Malaysia and a few others.

On the local level, the city of Edina, Minnesota, became the third city in the country to pass anti-genocide legislation, behind Chicago and San Francisco.

Though Minnesota’s elected officials are trying to address the problem, Kennedy suggests they could do more if they pass an anti-genocide resolution like Edina and divest local public funds from the targeted list of complicit companies.

A major source of concern for Solomon and some of his activist colleagues is that it is difficult to reach many Sudanese to launch campaigns. “The sad thing is [it’s difficult] to reach out to the Sudanese community in the U.S. to write letters to Congress,” said Solomon. “How to get the information to reach the international community is a problem.”

Among the Sudanese, there is a problem in advocating against the Darfur genocide and the rampant child abductions. Many people do not know what to do. They do not know how they can help, because most are unaware of the available resources, such the Human Rights Department at the University of Minnesota.

Some Sudanese go to college while others work full time. If they are not in a university or other academic setting, it is difficult for them to follow the situation in Darfur or Liliir, opined Solomon. These days, Solomon spends time calling many of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” living in the U.S. Some he calls to tell them what to do, to sign online petitions and join discussions on Facebook, write letters to Congress, and reach the international community to save Yar, Ajak, and many other abducted children.
“Genocide will continue to be a scourge of the 21st century as it was in the 20th century… There are expanding numbers of young, angry, unemployed men and women in poor nations who believe they have nothing to lose,” said Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the war in Darfur drags on with multiple assaults on civilians by the Janjaweeds as key rebel leaders boycott the Oct. 27 peace talks in Libya.

For more information: Go to www.darfurscores.org to see how each of the 10 Minnesota officials in Washington have voted on Darfur or on genocide-related legislation; go to

www.genocideintervention.net to read about Darfur and sign up for weekly news updates; go to www.mngin.org and check the calendar for related speakers, films, and events happening throughout the state.

Issa A. Mansaray welcomes reader responses to iamansaray@yahoo.com.